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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1993 Jan;59(1):290-5.

Cobalamin-mediated mercury methylation by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans LS.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.


The prominence of sulfate reducers in mercury biomethylation prompted the examination of the methyl carrier and mercury methylation activity of Desulfovibrio desulfuricans LS. There was a low degree of mercury tolerance and a high degree of methylation during fermentative growth; the opposite was true during sulfate reduction. During 2 days of fermentative growth, up to 37% of HgCl2 was methylated at 0.1 micrograms/ml, but only 1.5% was methylated at 10.0 micrograms/ml. Less than 1% of the added HgCl2 was methylated under sulfate-reducing conditions. D. desulfuricans LS radioimmunoassay results were positive for cobalamin. The addition of CoCl2 and benzimidazole to fermentative cultures increased methylation activity. From D. desulfuricans LS grown in the presence of (57)CoCl2, a corrinoid was extracted and purified. High-performance liquid chromatography analysis of the purified extract yielded a single peak with the retention time of cobalamin, and 97% of the (57)Co radioactivity was associated with this peak. Fast atom bombardment and UV and visible spectra of the isolated corrinoid matched those of cobalamin. When methylated with (14)CH3I, the isolated corrinoid methylated Hg(2+) with a 93.9% preservation of (14)C specific activity. We conclude that D. desulfuricans LS methylates mercury via cobalamin (vitamin B12). Under physiological conditions, the enzymatic catalysis of this reaction is likely.

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